An unusually strong international flavor pervades the Sundance Film Festival’s Premieres slate, with new pictures from British helmer Michael Winterbottom, Irish directors Lenny Abrahamson and John Michael McDonagh, Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn, Welsh-born action maven Gareth Evans and Iranian-born French auteur Marjane Satrapi figuring prominently among the 17 world-premiere titles unveiled today alongside the Documentary Premieres section.
For director of programming Trevor Groth, the flowering of international auteur talent in Premieres is the result of a considered effort that began shortly after he and fest director John Cooper launched their first edition in 2010. While their immediate focus was on beefing up the dramatic competition as a showcase for new filmmakers, broader international outreach across all sections of the festival became a similar priority.
“I think we’ve really built the dramatic competition up in a way that it’s firing at the level we always hoped it would,” Groth said. “In the last couple of years, we’ve wanted to extend beyond that and let people know Sundance can be a place to launch new films from more established filmmakers. Internationally, it’s really world-class.”
Cooper added that despite their international provenance, these filmmakers should expect an informed and intelligent reception from audiences in Park City, Utah. “American audiences have knowledge of their work; young audiences have knowledge of their work,” he said. “It’s fascinating that they’re seeing what the festival can do for them.”
As the festival’s highest-profile program and an annual hotbed of distributor interest, Premieres should continue to see plenty of star wattage from a full panoply of actors including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender, Elizabeth Banks, Steve Coogan, Paul Rudd, Ryan Reynolds, Shailene Woodley, Michael Shannon, John Lithgow and Alfred Molina.
Reynolds stars in Satrapi’s dark, surreal-sounding “The Voices,” about a young man with two talking pets, while Woodley stars in “White Bird in a Blizzard,” the latest effort directed by Gregg Araki, a Sundance veteran (“The Living End,” “Splendor,” “Smiley Face”). Winterbottom, another Park City regular who was previously in Premieres with this year’s “The Look of Love,” is back with “The Trip to Italy,” a sequel to 2010’s foodie-funnymen crowd-pleaser “The Trip.” Speaking of sequels: “The Raid 2,” Gareth Evans’ ambitious follow-up to his 2012 Sundance hit “The Raid: Redemption,” should be one of the festival’s hottest tickets, particularly among hardcore genre fans.
Both “The Trip to Italy” (IFC) and “The Raid 2” (Sony Classics) will arrive at Sundance with distribution already in place, along with David Wain’s romantic-comedy spoof “They Came Together” and Corbijn’s John le Carre adaptation “A Most Wanted Man,” both of which are being released in the U.S. by Lionsgate.
That leaves 13 Premieres titles still in the hunt for distribution, among them two films from screen actors making their directorial debuts: “Hits,” a comedy about fame in the viral-video era from David Cross, and “Rudderless,” a story of grief and rock ‘n’ roll helmed and co-written by William H. Macy, starring Billy Crudup and Anton Yelchin. “Rudderless” has been selected as the festival’s closing-night film.
A number of directors represented in Premieres have had films in past Sundance competition slates, including McDonagh, who made a splash with 2011’s World Cinema entry “The Guard” and returns with another Brendan Gleeson vehicle, “Calvary.” Mike Cahill, whose “Another Earth” was in the 2011 dramatic competition, is back with another science-fiction-flavored tale starring Brit Marling, “I Origins.”
Ira Sachs, who competed two years ago with “Keep the Lights On,” makes his Premieres debut with another gay New York romance, “Love Is Strange,” starring Lithgow and Molina as a longtime couple. Lynn Shelton, who competed at Sundance earlier this year with “Touchy Feely,” will bring her latest effort, “Laggies,” starring Keira Knightley and Sam Rockwell. And Jordan Vogt-Roberts (whose “The Kings of Summer” premiered at the most recent Sundance festival as “Toy’s House”) heads in another direction with “Nick Offerman: American Ham,” a taping of the popular comedian’s one-man show.
Eleven nonfiction titles will make their debuts in Documentary Premieres, which, like Premieres, is chockablock with Park City veterans including “Paradise Lost” trilogy helmer Joe Berlinger, back with “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger”; Steve James, returning with “Life Itself,” a profile of the late Roger Ebert; Alex Gibney with “Finding Fela,” about the Nigerian musician and human-rights activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti; and Amir Bar-Lev with “Happy Valley,” an inquiry into the Penn State sex-abuse scandal.
In addition to “Life Itself,” two personality-focused pics likely to generate particular audience and buyer interest are Greg Whiteley’s “Mitt,” which was filmed during Mitt Romney’s failed presidential run, and Jennifer Kroot’s “To Be Takei,” about “Star Trek” thesp and human-rights activist George Takei. Cooper noted that Chapman and Maclain Way’s “The Battered Bastards of Baseball,” about the rise of the Portland Mavericks, was one of two strong baseball-themed docs in the 2014 selection, the other being the U.S. docu competition entry “No No: A Dockumentary.”
The 30th annual Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 16-26.
The 17 world premieres in this section are from the U.S. unless otherwise specified.
“Calvary” (Ireland-U.K.) — Directed and written by John Michael McDonagh. A darkly comedic drama about a priest forced to do battle with dark forces when his life is threatened one day during confession. Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Marie-Josee Croz.
“Frank” (Ireland-U.K.) — Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan. An offbeat comedy about a wannabe musician who joins an avant-garde rock band led by the musical genius of the title. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy.
“Hits” — Directed and written by David Cross. Fame, delusion, earnestness and recklessness collide for a small town of dreamers in upstate New York. Cast: Meredith Hagner, Matt Walsh, James Adomian, Jake Cherry, Derek Waters, Wyatt Cenac.
“I Origins” — Directed and written by Mike Cahill. A molecular biologist and his lab partner uncover evidence that could change society as we know it. Cast: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Steven Yeun, Archie Panjabi.
“Laggies” — Directed by Lynn Shelton, written by Andrea Seigel. A coming-of-age story about a 28-year-old woman-child forced to get her act together when she receives an unexpected marriage proposal. Cast: Keira Knightley, Sam Rockwell, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ellie Kemper, Jeff Garlin, Mark Webber.
“Little Accidents” — Directed and written by Sara Colangelo. A drama of secrets and lies set in a small American coal town still reeling from a recent mining accident. Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Boyd Holbrook, Chloe Sevigny, Jacob Lofland, Josh Lucas.
“Love is Strange” — Directed by Ira Sachs, written by Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias. Ben and George finally tie the knot after nearly 40 years together, but when George loses his job as a result, they’re forced to live apart and rely on the support of family and friends. Cast: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Darren Burrows, Charlie Tahan, Cheyenne Jackson.
“A Most Wanted Man” — Directed by Anton Corbijn, written by Andrew Bovell. Corbin’s follow-up to “The American” is an adaptation of John le Carre’s bestselling thriller. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright. A Lionsgate release.
“Nick Offerman: American Ham” — Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, written by Nick Offerman. A live taping of Offerman’s one-man show at New York’s historic Town Hall theater, featuring a collection of anecdotes, songs and woodworking/oral-sex techniques. Cast: Offerman.
“The One I Love” — Directed by Charlie McDowell, written by Justin Lader. A struggling married couple plan a weekend getaway, only to discover an unusual dilemma waiting for them. Cast: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson.
“The Raid 2” (Indonesia) — Directed and written by Gareth Evans. The rookie officer left standing in “The Raid: Redemption” goes undercover to infiltrate the ranks of a ruthless Jakarta crime syndicate. Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo, Alex Abbad. A Sony Classics release.
“Rudderless” — Directed by William H. Macy, written by Casey Twenter, Jeff Robison and Macy. A grieving father stumbles upon a box of his deceased son’s original music, spurring him to form a rock ‘n’ roll band. Cast: Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, Felicity Huffman, Selena Gomez, Laurence Fishburne, Macy.
“They Came Together” — Directed by David Wain, written by Michael Showalter and Wain. A subversive spoof of the romantic-comedy genre with a vaguely Jewish leading man and a klutzy but adorable leading lady set against a New York backdrop. Cast: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, Max Greenfield, Christopher Meloni. A Lionsgate release.
“The Trip to Italy” (U.K.) — Directed by Michael Winterbottom, written by Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan and Winterbottom. Another round of food, rivalry and laughs from “The Trip” duo. Cast: Coogan, Brydon. An IFC Films release.
“The Voices” (U.S.-Germany) — Directed by Marjane Satrapi, written by Michael R. Perry. A genre-bending tale about a lovable but disturbed factory worker with an evil talking cat, a benevolent talking dog and a peculiar relationship with a woman in accounting. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver.
“White Bird in a Blizzard” — Directed and written by Gregg Araki. This adaptation of Laura Kasischke’s novel tells the story of a young woman whose life is turned upside down by her mother’s disappearance. Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane.
“Young Ones” — Directed and written by Jake Paltrow. When his life is altered forever by a series of events, a child is forced to make choices no child should ever have to make. Cast: Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning, Kodi Smit-McPhee.
The 11 world premieres in this section are from the U.S. unless otherwise specified.
“The Battered Bastards of Baseball” — Directed by Chapman Way, Maclain Way. An account of how in 1973, Hollywood veteran Bing Russell founded the Portland Mavericks, the only independent baseball team in the country.
“Finding Fela” — Directed by Alex Gibney. A portrait of the life, music and political significance of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the creative force behind the musical movement Afrobeat.
“Freedom Summer” — Directed by Stanley Nelson. A look back at the summer of 1964, when more than 700 student activists took segregated Mississippi by storm, registering voters, creating freedom schools and establishing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
“Happy Valley” — Directed by Amir Bar-Lev. A look beyond the headlines of the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal.
“Last Days in Vietnam” — Directed by Rory Kennedy. Examines the moral quandary facing American soldiers and diplomats during the final weeks of the Vietnam War: whether to obey White House orders to evacuate only U.S. citizens.
“Life Itself” — Directed by Steve James. Recounts the life of film critic Roger Ebert, from his early days as a bachelor and Pulitzer Prize winner through his partnership with Gene Siskel to his brave battle with cancer.
“Mitt” — Directed by Greg Whiteley. A close-up look at Mitt Romney during his U.S. presidential run.
“Revolution” (U.S.-U.K.) — Directed by Greg Barker. A look at ordinary individuals transformed by the moral and personal challenges they encounter when they stand up for what they believe is right.
“This May Be the Last Time” — Directed by Sterlin Harjo. An investigation into Native American filmmaker Harjo’s family history, namely the mysterious 1962 disappearance of his grandfather and the songs of encouragement sung by those who searched for him.
“To Be Takei” — Directed by Jennifer Kroot. A chronicle of the life of actor-activist George Takei, from his origins in a WWII internment camp to the helm of the Starship Enterprise and beyond.
“Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger” — Directed by Joe Berlinger. An account of corruption at the highest levels of law enforcement as seen through the recent trial of infamous gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.